Muhammad Ready When Given Opportunity
Muhammad Ready When Given Opportunity
Shabazz Muhammad was back at Wolves practice on Monday, one day removed from his fourth and final game with the Iowa Energy during his D-League assignment. And he was working. Working so hard, in fact, that Wolves public relations manager Aaron Seehusen had to stop Muhammad in the middle of his interview, give him a towel and have him wipe the sweat off his face.
If there’s one message you’ve got to take away from Muhammad’s stint in the D-League and subsequent return, it’s that he’s working hard and making the most of his opportunities. He was sent to the Energy to accrue playing time, work on his conditioning and gain confidence that he can play well at the professional level.
He did that and more, averaging 24.8 points on 57.1 percent shooting along with 9.8 boards per game—all while helping Iowa to a 3-1 record during his stint.
“It felt great—it felt a little like college and high school, so that was a good thing,” Muhammad said about the gaining the minutes he’s been so accustomed to during his career. “But like I said, it gave me a lot of confidence coming into practice today. And like I said, I believe I can really help this team out when I get the opportunity. But like I said, I’m going to do what I can and wait my turn.”
Muhammad hasn’t gotten those minutes during his first two months at the NBA level, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t kept improving his game. He’s maintained praise from coach Rick Adelman for how he’s worked in practice and put up shots afterwards, and one thing he’s done since joining the Wolves this offseason is showcased a more balanced arsenal of skills.
Coming out of UCLA, Muhammad was billed as a scorer. And yes, he can still do that. But during Training Camp, Muhammad gained a reputation for crashing the offensive glass and trying to track down rebounds, and he helped move the ball during those early practices—helping get the motion of the offense going instead of looking to score.
Even without getting a ton of regular season minutes to date, Adelman said he’s particularly maintained his ability to crash the boards.
“He’s always been consistent with that,” Adelman said. “Very strong. One thing we really like about him is he’s not afraid, you know? It doesn’t matter—practice today, he went after our guys and got 2-3 offensive rebounds. That’s something he’s done since Day 1.”
So the balancing act here is ensuring Muhammad gets that gameday playing time—as President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders said, you can’t substitute the popcorn smell in the air and the gameday atmosphere—while also getting the practice experience with his Timberwolves teammates at the NBA level.
Saunders said even the Timberwolves’ practice days have been more preparation than practice so far this season, leaving less development time for younger players than they’d like. He said whether the lessons translate this year or not, they will translate eventually for a player like Muhammad. It just takes time.
Particularly on defense, if Muhammad is able to continue growing and developing, his minutes might be able to increase. But it’s important to keep in mind that Muhammad’s wing position is deeper than it’s been all season with the return of Chase Budinger added in with Corey Brewer, Kevin Martin, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Alexey Shved.
“He does do something that we don’t have—he’s aggressive to the basket,” Saunders said. “I think yesterday he had 7-8 dunks. A couple of them over people and the others on the fast break. He gets out, he’s aggressive and he attacks.”
For Muhammad, the approach seems to remain the same. He’s trying to pave his way on this team, but he’s taking a patient approach. If he keeps working hard, he’s confident he’ll be able to make an impact when his time comes.
As Adelman said, in this league those opportunities come quickly. You need to be ready when they do.
Muhammad is confident that will be the case.
“I definitely think I’m an NBA player,” Muhammad said. “Like I said, it’s all about opportunity in this league. Once I get my opportunity, I’m really going to take advantage of it I think. I think I can really help out our team a lot with rebounds and my athletic ability. I feel like I can really help.”
“O’s a really good player, a really good defender and it really helped me with him down there just talking with him and stuff like that.”
Speaking of Jeffers, Muhammad said he’s doing well on the court. His numbers suggest that, too: He’s averaging 22.7 points per game on 50 percent shooting while racking up 10.8 boards per game this season.
“He’s really attacking the basket really well,” Muhammad said. “I mean, I think he’s doing a great job, and we had a little bit of chemistry playing, and he looked for me on the fast break and I got some nice finishes for him.”
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